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start upDiplomat chats to Hila Oren, founder and CEO of Tel Aviv Global, a city-owned company in charge of the global development of the city

1. What is the brand of Tel Aviv?

When we started building the Tel Aviv brand, we tried to identify its Unique Selling Proposition. We realised that Tel Aviv doesn’t have big monuments or ancient history like Paris or London. After a long process, we understood that the highlight of Tel Aviv, the characteristic that makes it so unique, is its people. They create the special atmosphere, the vibe, the ‘Nonstop City.’

The people of Tel Aviv create the special urban, cool atmosphere that you sense whether you walk or bike along Rothschild Boulevard, whether you shop at the Carmel Market, whether you spend your day at the beach, or have a meeting in a downtown restaurant, café or bar (which is quite usual for the Tel Aviv start-up scene!)

The DNA of the city is entrepreneurship, which is why it is a central start-up hub, the #1 start-up ecosystem outside of the US, and an avant-garde culinary, cultural and artistic scene.

2.What are your major plans and priorities for Tel Aviv Global and Tourism going forward?

There are three key areas.  Regarding Global Economic Development, in order to enhance the start-up ecosystem our key goal today is global collaboration between the leading cities in the field. We have formed a city-to-city collaboration with Berlin and Paris, allowing entrepreneurs from these cities to visit each other’s ecosystems and receive a soft landing package including desks at co-working spaces, advice on visas, regulations and legal issues around starting up companies, as well as one-on-one mentoring assistance and access to the ecosystem.  We are also working on collaborations with London and New York City.  This is a major start-up hub, and we see Tel Aviv as mentors to other cities aspiring for this status.

Regarding tourism, Tel Aviv’s main challenge is the limited number of hotel rooms (8,000). We plan to double this number in the next few years. Additionally, we are significantly investing in digital tourism, which is revolutionising the sector.

Regarding marketing, Tel Aviv Global is a rather small municipal company with a small budget, but we have large and aspiring plans. This is why we focus on taking the brand forward by creating partnerships with the public and private sectors as with the people of the city.

3. What is Tel Aviv’s ‘Start-Up City Vision?’  Why is there such a strong entrepreneurial culture within Israel?

With more than 1,000 start-ups, Tel Aviv is the #1 start-up hub outside the United States, and has the highest concentration of start-ups per capita in the world. There are many reasons why the start-up and entrepreneurial culture is so strong in Tel Aviv, but the main reason in my opinion is that this culture runs in the city’s DNA: Tel Aviv is a young city in an ancient land. It was founded in 1909 when 66 families gathered on the sand dunes outside the ancient port city of Jaffa, and decided to create the first Hebrew city. I consider this the first start-up success story in Tel Aviv. This spirit and courage are the main ingredients of innovation and creativity, and they are still shared by the many young entrepreneurs in Tel Aviv who aren’t afraid of inventing products that are changing the world.

4. Why do you describe Tel Aviv as ‘the Mediterranean capital of cool?’ What makes it stand out from the rest?

This great title was given to Tel Aviv by The New York Times in 2008. I think the main thing that makes Tel Aviv so cool is, the city’s DNA: the people give the city its artistic pulse, its vibrant nightlife that starts at midnight and finishes at midday, its innovation in technology but also in food, fashion and music. People here start their day surfing and then go to work with their team at a start-up in a co-working space, and organise a week-long festival around gay pride.

5. London Mayor Boris Johnson just visited Tel Aviv. What was on the agenda? What do you hope to achieve from the visit?

Boris Johnson met with Mayor Ron Huldai to discuss future cooperation between Tel Aviv and London, and the ways in which the startup ecosystems between the two cities can flourish. We are strong believers in working together with other leading global cities, since we always strive to leverage the creativity of our people, and the cooperation between the two cities is a great step in the right direction to continuing this.

6. How does brand Tel Aviv relate to the brand of Israel?

The brand of Israel is creative energy: it focuses on the dynamic, energetic, innovative and enthusiastic rhythm of the people. In that sense, Tel Aviv, the ‘Nonstop City,’ is the heart and essence of this energy. Tel Aviv is the Start-up City of the Start-up Nation, encompassing its artistic and cultural vibes and its creativity and dynamics.

7. You mention that you shouldn’t combine city and nation when it comes to branding – that they are two quite different things. Why is that?

We can look at the difference between a city and a nation in the following way:  a city is like your close family, while a nation is your extended family. Every person is more emotional towards their close family rather than the extended one. The branding of a city can be much more successful, because it is easier to influence a city.

I consider myself a city-maker: we can make differences not just in appearance, but in the way the city evolves and transforms. An example: we took a run-down public library and turned it into a co-working space for entrepreneurs to come and exchange ideas. We realised that the building remains vacant after working hours and would make for a great event hall – and now we have dance parties for the elderly on Tuesday evenings.

8. We read that Tel Aviv is destined to be one of the leading 20 cities in the world. How do you measure this success?

There are many ways to measure a global city. We participate in many global rankings as there isn’t one ranking that measures all global cities. We use rankings that are in the field of branding, tourism and economy. Tel Aviv as a global city is not something that will happen in a day or two, but it is a long-term goal. To reach this goal we are working daily on the implementation of global standards such as a light rail, free WiFi around the city and a bike-sharing system, but also on being an innovative municipality.

9. What do you think is Tel Aviv’s greatest challenge?

The challenge of Tel Aviv as a city brand is moving from early adapters to the early majority. Today, Tel Aviv is a big hit among the early adapters including journalists, celebrities and trendsetters. Our job is to make this brand known and attractive for the early majority. After that, it becomes a lot easier – I’ve never heard of someone who’s been to Tel Aviv and did not want to come back.


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